tv Steve Villano Tightrope CSPAN January 20, 2018 11:30am-12:00pm EST
joseph winston witnessed this monumental moment, who ushered in surgery to the modern era by applying the germ theory to medical practice. >> you can watch this and other programs online at booktv.org. >> i do double duty here. i am welcoming steve villano who is next, a native of brooklyn, new york and former head of governor mario cuomo's press office with public education, press service, public health and ceo of several national and nonprofit organizations. i will skip to the end here. he has written quite a bit, a long list of things he has written, he offered major pieces on ethnic stereotyping
and ambassador magazines, he also has talked about john to touro, the labor journalist, for the national education association for a decade, he has won numerous awards and has digital poetry book, the list goes on and on. various awards like the digital book publishers of america in 2014 and if there is anything i left out, please -- >> i don't need that appear. >> thank you, joann. we deserve to remember in the annals of poetry, i never had a poet get the words katana and madonna in the same phrase. it is priceless, really
priceless. a number of people, former colleagues from the cuomo administration, new friend, fellow writers i have met here, representatives of 50 colleges and universities, sharing the panel with fred, i was working on an article 20 years ago for ambassador magazine about stereotyping against italian-americans and who did i call but the expert where fred was, we chatted a long time, we had never met in person until today. it is pretty awesome for me to be here with fred on the same panel. i will go right into my reading. let me grab my water.
this is from my book "tightrope: balancing a life between mario cuomo and my brother". after my reading you can get copies in the back of the room. my wife carol is manning the table. uniondale, summer, 1988. i sat shoulder to shoulder with my 22-year-old nephew michael, struck by his resemblance to jfk junior and also to my brother at the same age. jet black hair, large, dark eyes and a dazzling, kind smile. michael and i listened to federal prosecutors lay out their case against his father, my brother. earlier that morning, governor mario cuomo called me at home after three is working around the clock with como at the 2 world trade center office in new york, even sleeping over during snowstorms which i was
his man at the long island power authority. they bring long hours to shut down the nuclear power plant for health and safety reasons. you do good work, the governor said. you have great ability and a great future. it is a pleasure working with you. you have a good future your self, governor. now, i have no future, but you, he said in a series, almost fatherly tone, you have a wonderful future. 90 minutes later, that bright future collided with my brother's present. i was sitting in a federal courtroom hearing government prosecutors, asked an fbi agent if it was true my brother was a bad man for john gotti collecting for labor, body and the llano -- gotti and villano
spoken in the same sentence by law enforcement officials. my brother went to gotti, i linked to cuomo. these were only allegations i kept telling myself. my brother was not guilty of anything. he could not be. he was my mother's son. mario cuomo detested organized crime as much as i did. he was incensed by the mob innuendos about him and anyone in his family. even the expectation that he had to answer any questions about it outraged him. since he believed his whole life, quote, had been a statement against that. what if my family name became the issue? would he keep me on staff? what i have the courage to leave the public service work which i loved? i felt naked. nothing left to protect me. not my carefully calibrated career, not my conservative clothing, not my law degree, nothing. that was my brother up there.
we shared the same blood, the same last name. 4 years we shared the same bedroom with different dreams at the top of the stairs in my parents house. michael, my brother vinny and me. our lives intertwined which i looked around the courtroom and winced as i heard our name echo around the room bouncing off the bench, the chair, the judge's desk. if only i had a sponge i would scrub the wall, make our name vanish from every surface it touched. i wanted everything to disappear but could not keep myself away from the courtroom. i had to find out what i suspected but denied for years yet there was something more, much more. i thought of my mother sitting in the living room of a small apartment in california watching her afternoon stories, as the world turns, search for
tomorrow, seeing how everything would somehow take place in the courtroom. i saw her big round glasses, eyes open as wide as her heart watching in disbelief, what a way for her firstborn child. i imagined her fingering her rosary beads, quietly praying, conducting her own trial, prosecuting herself and forever defending her son. i was my mother's eyes and ears in the courtroom and i could not leave. real lobsters and friends of mobsters flooded around the family as long as i could remember. i like the characters in the movies on television, by robert they niro and al pacino and james kendall feeney there was nothing funny or romantic, they used everyone around us as props, working stiffs like my father who for decades toiled in a beaten-down boiler room in the bowels of the building at
108, 42nd street to heal coolie offices of wealthy accountants and lawyers on the floors above. on sundays my father swallowed his anger and shame with a chaser of with your beer when he learned his oldest son michael spent afternoons with the gambino family who married into our family and would serve as john gotti's real-life godfather in the mob as well as my brothers. carmine, uncle charlie as we call him was not the romanticized picture of a suave godfather popularized in francis ford coppola's film. that was a caricature that would be modeled after another mobster by marriage into the family, pat emily, his brother-in-law, my mother's first cousin, started the first
godfather movie as the villainous. in stark contrast, cary grant, peter lori, should give you a good visual of the two. in stark contrast, a rising star in the crime family, a favorite, carmine was short and squat. a local gang member who grew up in the new york section of brooklyn, always meticulously addressed. the tough guy image of the crime family, uncle charlie rose to the post ofoh when albert was executed and carlo gambino became the new leader of the organization. here and his name charlie wagon from hijacking trucks loaded with goods he could easily fence. gotti, a 17-year-old high
school dropout at the time became a member of the crew that year. hired by uncle charlie. my brother michael, 9 years older than i was of a different world than what they were fashioning. growing up, i idolized him for his gentleness and exalted spot as my mother's first favorite child. my father frequently was not. for all types of people, particularly his little brother, his white eyes reveal every emotion. michael was my first glance of a renaissance man and for years i denied his drift away from the person i thought he was toward a darker, unrecognizable version of someone i once worshiped. defaces fallibility's was to peer down into an abyss waiting
for me to slip. between 1955 to 1988 as gotti rosen to liberty and power law-enforcement officials looked for anything and anyone to leverage against the new king of new york's crime families. my brother's friendship with gotti was attempting target to squeeze in federal court was the perfect place to apply that pressure. i studied the smooth sweet lines of my nephew's face as he sat next to me in court to see the turmoil and years of tension took a physical toll on him. he listened as intently as i did to prosecutors talking about a prison term for his father, my brother. linking our last name ever so tightly to gotti's. even john gotti junior, writing with great emotion, in a few
passages of his book shadow of my father, his own self published memoir, understood the terror of being trapped by family history. this is the son of john gotti, quotes from his own memoir self published three years ago. death and jail consumed many fellows. we were really selfish, rise with no husband present. they were the innocent sufferers of our guilt. with the increased media attention to mobsters the children of men and the life, would be ostracized. still more revealing was a conversation between john gotti junior and his friend which was recorded in the federal correctional institute near lake placid on october 5, 2003.
this is john gotti junior. we used to go with our fathers, our fathers never spent time with us. when they did they drove us by the club which was founded by my uncle charlie. dropped us off at the club and that was it. we were 10, 11, 12 years old and a club of men. you are forced to emulate these people, almost forced to emulate them. there were some guys i genuinely love, danny, danny wagon, i loved these guys but it seems most people out there today, talking to his friends, most of these people are real garbage pails. he says you and here is gotti again. if we are stupid enough to raise our children nears this, then we deserve to die in jail, i am sorry but we do. my suggestion, to salvage our
children you got to move away, got to stay away from these people. he says i don't see how to get away. and john gotti junior says i am real smart. smart would have been running away a long time ago. i got trapped. all my father had in this world was me and i was the only one to see him and he had me for the lawyers running around for lawyers and so on and so forth. i got trapped. i don't want to live in new york. i want to move to carolina. i couldn't disappoint the guy, i had to stay. i did not care who i disappointed. i knew i had to flee to build a new life and reject the easy seduction of accepting the old one. my driving desire to get out overrode any concern about
whether or not i family's mob related connections would be glad for mario cuomo's future if i ever worked for him. they were not me, i kept telling myself. no matter how much my brother and john gotti junior loved him, was not me. no matter how debonair my mother and brother found him to be, was not me. even my brother michael as much as i worshiped him as a child and still wanted to believe the best of him, as an adult despite mounting evidence to the contrary, was not me. i was the third son of a third son destined for special things. that was my father's hope, his ambition and small slice of himself that he allowed to dream. forget about trying to get to
mario cuomo, i heard one of my brother's associates say to him he is unreachable. that was precisely why i could not forget about mario cuomo, i was drawn by the power of cuomo's intellect, his integrity, compassion and persona as a bold contradiction to the destructive stereotypes of italian-americans as uneducated buffoons and members of neighborhood -- cuomo's vision and values were compelling to me offering a clear pathway from my past, a chance to contribute to the greater world out there and retain my family's love. if mario cuomo could do it, faced with different challenges like not speaking english until he was 8 years old, then so could i. how then could i tell mario cuomo that a story could appear thinking my brother, our name
to john gotti, how do i talk about organized crime in my family with the one italian-american elected official who personified it. i pictured myself on the 57th floor in the press conference room at the world trade center tower number 2 telling reporters any notion of mario cuomo having mob connections was bull -- because the mob was on my family of the inside word about cuomo was he was unreachable. in my imaginary press conference i resigned as an eyewitness, condemned mob rumors. instead i condemned myself by not protecting mario cuomo from my family and being unable to resist the pull to work for him in the first place. looking at my work for cuomo as penance for the sins of my brother and the mob that marred
our lives. i would do good for public service, i would clean up the family name, i got up and paced around my office. i sat down and wrote out a script i would read to the governor and this is the script. governor, i have some very unpleasant news which i feel obligated to share with you. my brother was three months in prison for tax evasion today, and in federal court in uniondale. the judge's decision expressed the belief my brother had some association with organized crime. two news they reporters were present, one of whom i knew. i anticipate there will be a story in tomorrow's paper. i don't want you to learn of this secondhand. i read over my little speech, hands trembling. there was no escaping now, no need rationalizations. i cannot pretend that
everything would be as it was. the phone on my desk rang. it was the governor but i placed the script in front of me, singing to it like a life preserver. hello, governor, i said, shaking. what is going on, steve? he said as he usually did. i read my script word for word. the governor was silent as i read. i finished, closed my eyes and waited for his response. my heart pounding. this is mario cuomo. i don't see how it should affect you, he said without hesitation. i certainly feel for you but i don't see how it affects you. you are a superb public official and i don't think it should have any effect on you. stunned, i thanked mario cuomo. i looked at the photo on my office wall, a large framed color photograph of the world
trade center, a self-contained world where i escaped each day for 12 to 14 hours, a world of public service and doing good with a brilliant italian-american of the highest integrity, a world of my own sealed off from my family which no one could take away from me. i got up and focused closely on the twin towers tracing my finger across the void between the north tower and the south, where more than a decade earlier, as a nebulous walked back and forth eight times across the cable strung between them. he made it look easy but he spent months practicing for his quarter-mile high balancing act. visiting the world trade center 200 times to precisely plan every detail.
gone virtually no attention. >> i knew very little about the suffrage movement, not like they taught it in school. it was one of the topics that interested me when i was back in school and i was first going to write about suffrage in the 19th century when there was a terrible schism between the two branches of the movement, between elizabeth cady stanton and susan b anthony on one side and henry blackwell on the other. stone and blackwell are staunch abolitionists and they believe the black men should be in franchise first should be ratified and then women can fight for their votes.
susan b and elizabeth cady, going into the constitution, we are going with them or fighting it. with the movement for 30 years and organizations and deeply damaging for the cause and i was sent out, my dissertation topic, going to prove elizabeth cady and susan b were horrible people and so forth. it was so depressing. [laughter] >> my faculty advisor -- you can remember i walked into his office, i want to start thinking what finally worked. i want to look forward to the positive moves, started researching the early 20th
century to see what was going on. i started reading newspaper accounts and tripped over these women and nobody noticed them. they were there, too famous to know this. >> you didn't know about them when you started this thing. >> guest: no. i was reading newspapers from the 1900s, and there would be occasional references to events where fancy uber wealthy celebrity socialites were coming out for suffrage, what happens when they joined suffrage in 1908, sort of in the doldrums, languishing, considered the cause of the intellectual fringe. there are various codewords for
lesbian fringe or radical fringe, but clearly not the mainstream and then come these society women, they are covered already. celebrity figures are covered by the press for their decor, the travel, entertainment, they are over-the-top is that is the reason it is a fun read, when they come out, votes for women, electrified public opinion, interested the mainstream, it would be like angelina jolie and you and refugees get sexy, who would have thought? that is what happened i believe. >> you can watch this and other programs online at booktv.org. >> here is a look at the best books of the year according to amazon.
way they do. the subtexts from this particularly nationalistic teacher, we would all end up looking darker and more vague than we did in the past. she wasn't exactly unhappy about it but expressed concern about the eventual loss of the blue eye and natural blonde, we were paired up with someone of the opposite sex to compare genes, what our potential child would look like. let me drive this home. a public school teacher told her teenage students to pretend they were going to have sex with each other and biologically likely babies which i was one of the only ethnic kids in the class, the genes are already steamrolling everybody else's, my partner, eric, a white boy, personified -- went on the checklist with me. when we arrived at hair, fingers or knuckles, i looked at my hands for what seemed like the very first time,
standing up on my fingers were soft strands of hair. i was horrified. how had i never noticed such a grotesque feature but i always knew my legs were harry, my arms covered, my upper lip result enough to catch flies but i overlooked this new barbarity. i don't have any, eric, i said. me neither. >> some of these authors have appeared on booktv, what's on our website, booktv.org. >> we are leaving tv to take you live to the senate floor, we will return to regularly scheduled booktv program when the senate gavels out for the day, today in the senate, negotiations continue to reopen the federal